At least 18 power plants contain substandard steel. The nuclear regulator is also "concerned". It should have been aware of the problem.
Without the new construction in Flamanville, the safety problem might have remained a secret Photo: reuters
Now also Pierre-Franck Chevet considers the situation in the French nuclear energy production "very worrying", the chairman of the French nuclear safety authority (ASN). The reason for this is the realization that the bungling in the production of essential components of several nuclear power plants can have much more disastrous consequences than previously claimed. Twelve reactors have already been shut down.
The scandal became public because of the construction of the new pressurized water reactor plant in Flamanville in May 2016. Parts that come from the Creusot Forge steel foundry, which belongs to the nuclear group Areva, have too high a carbon content. This can reduce resistance and thus jeopardize safety.
A total of 18 reactors are said to be affected. ASN demanded an in-depth review, as a result of which twelve reactors had to be shut down.
Electricite de France (EDF), the electricity producer, is making up the balance: six reactors have already received permission to start operation, and the others will be reconnected to the grid by the end of January at the latest after inspections, it explained in a communique. Chevet now counters that only after the ASN has evaluated the results can it possibly give the green light for a restart.
Winter electricity imports conceivable
With its 58 nuclear reactors, France has always exported electricity. For the first time in decades, there is now a threat of a shortage of electricity in winter. If the power supply is not to be interrupted, France’s energy companies will have to resort to imports, Chevet contemplates.
These foreseeable shortages are the result of a long-standing cover-up. The quality deficiencies in the manufacture of pressurized water tanks had been known internally since at least 2006. At that time, the state-owned Areva took over the steel foundry and discovered a run-down plant and numerous organizational deficiencies during an audit.
According to the French news magazine Le Nouvel Obs, the report said: "It had Romanian moonlighters who were only used at night. Their equipment was so below safety standards that audit experts found traces of melted shoe soles on the factory floor." In addition, "a former management member (….) had favored friendly suppliers, inflated his expense accounts and issued false invoices."
Jean-Luc Mercier of the CGT union describes how this affected the organization: "To gain time, some bosses tended to move on to the next stage already without permission and speed up the pace of work." An unnamed employee explains how Creusot secured contracts: "To eliminate competitors and gain market share, dossiers were modified, and whoops, there we were, the best in the world."
All this had been known to the state nuclear industry for at least ten years. It was not until four years later that a targeted quality inspection of the reactor pressure vessels used in the majority of French nuclear power plants was ordered. Even when French media lifted the veil, Areva continued to try to downplay these problems.
Greenpeace France and six other associations filed suit against EDF. The accusation: "negligent endangerment of human life" and "fraudulent" presentation of the situation.